This is the term of office for an American President.
The length of time to complete a university degree.
How long it takes after graduation to feel like an adult.
And finally, 4 years is the expiry date on loving China.
It started happening last spring when my friend David and I met for lunch.
“You look bloody awful,” I exclaimed.
With dark circles bruising the skin under his eyes and weight loss so severe, he was skeletal, having suffered a violent episode of food poisoning from some questionable pork, he really did look white as death.
“It’s China, it’s killing me,” he said.
It really was. He proceeded to unload his tales of Chinese woe, how he was exhausted by his traditional, controlling in-laws (he married a Chinese girl), the insane traffic he had to fight everyday, the pushing, shoving, downright rudeness and nepotism practiced at his company.
What I remember the most was a resignation in his eyes. It had been 4 years, it was time to exit a country that at first seemed brash, inviting, an eastern version of the Wild West.
He had booked a plane ticket for himself, his wife and baby and when he told me this news, his eyes finally shone across the table.
Then others came after him. Another friend of mine had also been in China 4 years when he admitted he’d had enough — citing many of the same reasons, mostly expressing obstacles with the education system, how his students learn by rote, not innovation. He’d grown sick of trying to excite unexcited kids.
A gush of teachers that I once knew evaporated into thin air — all of them.
Then there’s me. I seem to operate in dog years, because 2 years has left me at the very end of my tether.
Being here this long has surprised me, like I failed in the traveling department somehow. Isn’t the key name of this blog “nomadic”?
Logic tells me I had to stop and doing so allowed me to re-imagine what to do next with Nomadic Chick, but my heart is aching, throbbing to leap high and far. My heart is weary of hearing the same language everyday, seeing the same streets I know too well, eating the usual fare, encountering faces that I’ve come to memorize.
I’m dog-tired of China.
China falls into two states.
There’s the temporal state, equivalent to nearly very appliance I’ve purchased here, only to see it break down 6 months later. I’ve filled more garbage bins with defunct ‘Made in China’ appliances than I care to admit.
Then there’s the temple state, that structure built from 100 year wood or embossed stone that has withstood sand storms, monsoon rains, clan bloodshed, civil clashes, a world war and the Cultural Revolution. Those ‘temple’ people stay.
I knew I was not a ‘temple’ person the minute I stepped onto Chinese soil, but there is such a thing as staying too long, past when every nuance was once interesting, but now grates you.
That’s how I feel these days, grated. Days when tears of frustration flow.
A wise friend once told me, “Never stay with a guy that makes you cry.” Can the same wisdom be applied to a country?
It crept up slowly on me, the more I took short trips away, the more returning became hard, yet eerily similar to a bad relationship, part of me is afraid to let go of China, even though it’s become wrong for me.
So I forgive.
I forgive the woman who shoved her shopping cart in the small of my back and made me yelp out in pain, when it was clear there was no room for her to go by.
I forgive the man who boldly cut in front of me in line.
I forgive the faceless person who stole my ebike outside a busy mall.
I forgive the property management worker that tore the electricity card from my hand in hot anger because my Chinese is so limited and this annoyed her.
I forgive the many cars or bikes that nearly wiped me from this earth.
Finally, I forgive myself for staying too long.
Let’s kiss-kiss, make up. I don’t want to leave regretting anything.
None of us do.